I’ve been an avid student of the U. S. Supreme Court since my retirement in early 2003. In my opinion, balance on the Court is more critical than full political balance in Congress. And right now, I believe the Court is a tad too heavy Right.
Technically, there are no constitutional qualifications for membership on the Supreme Court. No age, experiential, educational—not even a law degree—or citizenship requirements exist.
But in application, the U. S. Senate must confirm whomever a president appoints. And while they tend to be as politically partisan as it gets, they’re also sticklers for applicable experience and the possession of an accredited law degree.
Salary and benefits-wise, it’s a pretty decent gig, considering that these folks are not exactly overworked. Justices are appointed for life. Associate Justices earn current annual salaries of $213,900, while a Chief Justice earns $223,500. And they receive medical benefits on top of this.
As well, they’re free to charge as much as the market will bear for speeches, lectures, or whatever their schedules permit. And when they retire—there is no set retirement age—their pensions are equal to their full salaries and medical benefits.
The Court’s current political makeup is a tad Right-leaning. From what I call the hard-Right, hail Chief Justice John Roberts, Associate Justices Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas, and Samuel Alito.
Associate Justice Anthony Kennedy also hails from the Right, but he’s from the moderate division, and he’s often the swing vote in those 5 to 4 decisions.
From the Left come Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sonya Sotomayor, Elena Kagan, and Stephen Breyer. The first three are from the deep Left, while Breyer is a bit more moderate.
Religion-wise, Roberts, Scalia, Alito, Thomas, Kennedy, and Sotomayor are Roman Catholic. Kagan, Ginsburg, and Breyer are Jewish. And I believe that this is the first time—at least during my lifetime—that no other Christian denominations are represented.
I’ve also been privileged to meet three of the Justices personally (Scalia, Alito, and Breyer). Along with some others, I was even able to ask them a few questions.
I met Samuel Alito after he joined the U. S. Third Circuit Court of Appeals. I wasn’t all that impressed with him. He struck me as being a bit bland and too methodical.
I met Stephen Breyer at Harvard University during his many lectures (I attended four of them); the man’s a mesmerizing lecturer. He has an incredibly smooth, calming voice.
Supreme Court Justices need some degree of ego in order to survive in that environment. But Justice Breyer’s is almost impossible to detect, and by miles, he’s the most scholarly of the Court’s male members. Justice Ginsburg holds that honor among the females.
Antonin Scalia, while intellectually astute, is by no means a mental giant. He’s the most vocal of the males—and by extension, the most notable. He also has an ego the size California, along with a quietly sarcastic temper, aimed at people who dare to question his legal opinions.
He is a Constitutional Originalist. But—at least the way I see it—he tends to handpick the points about which to practice his Originalism. Here is a quote from one of his more recent interviews.
“But in most cases, especially controversial ones, the Originalist point of view is clear; no provision of the Constitution guaranteed the right to abortion, assisted suicide, or homosexual sodomy, and nothing prohibited the death penalty.”
And I’m the last one who would disagree with this, but that was THEN and now is NOW.
In my opinion, his Originalism is quite a convenience. He doesn’t have to agonize over anything, and he absolutely ignores this tidbit from Benjamin Franklin—one of the signing Fathers of the Constitution:
“I confess that there are several parts of this Constitution which I do not at present approve, but I am not sure I shall never approve them. For having lived long, I have experienced many instances of being obliged by better information, or fuller consideration, to change opinions even on important subjects, which I once thought right, but found to be otherwise.”
Originalism also tends to ignore the actual genius of the Founding Fathers. They, unlike some self-professed “experts” of today, knew that they didn’t know everything, and they provided a way for future generations to change the Constitution if it became warranted. They didn’t make it easy, but they made it possible.
Clarence Thomas is the other Originalist, and he’s an absolutely rabid states’ rights advocate. For example, he’ll tell you in a heartbeat that the Federal Government may not constitutionally endorse a religion, but that each of the states may do so at will. So, if Delaware wants to become the Calvinist State, and the voters agree, so be it.
He’s also—again in my opinion, the intellectual lightweight on the Court. Court watchers always criticize him for NEVER asking questions from the bench—although I think he once asked two questions.
Regardless, there’s a reason for his not asking questions; I suspect that he’s already made up his mind prior to even taking the bench.